Following on from a recent discussion about accountants that raised the subject of online accounting packages, I've written a piece discussing the merits of this approach to working with your bookkeeper/accountant and also linking to some of the popular services.

Have a look at Landscape Juice article. I'd be interested to hear any real-life experiences including bad ones !

Tags: accountant, accounting, bookkeeper, online, software

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Excellent article.

However,  there is one point that needs consideration before discounting the 'Dinosaur' packages such as Sage & Quickbooks etc.

Once a Contractor reaches a certain size & complexity, the manual/paper based systems used in the background will often need to be computerised, such as Estimating/Pricing, Scheduling/WIP etc.

The online systems do not cater for, nor provide an integrated approach for this and as such users need to look for additonal, specialised packages (from authorised partners) that bolt on (integrate) to the mainstream Accounting Packages to provide a single view/database of all customer related details (almost CRM) with the required functionality - such as scheduling, WIP etc.

Of all the online packages we looked at, all are suitable for sole traders or small companies, but struggle to provide the additional industry specific (ie landscaping/maintenance/lawn care) features one needs to run a slighty bigger to medium sized business.

It is easy to look at the Accounting requirements in isolation, without addressing other business needs - that can lead down a dead end avenue (and wasted time and expense).

I am sure this will change in time, but currently the holistic approach from online systems may not be there yet.....

In answer to the main question, www.winweb.com scores highly in my books - having used it with a friend.

Yes, that's a very good point Gary. These services are in their early years still but the beauty of their architecture is that it is relatively easy for third-party suppliers to write modules using the providers API. Xero are very good at this (if you look at www.Xero.com they list third party providers who link with their accounting program). I believe that the growth in this area will be so strong in this field in the next couple of years that anyone writing modules for Sage etc. will very quickly start providing the same for say, Xero.

However your point stands today and anyone in a strong growth situation or already of a size where they use industry-specific add-ons should consider speaking to the supplier to discuss the viability of porting that add-on to new software.

I'd be interested to hear if there are particular add-on products that you (or others) would consider important. I'd be happy to do some research to see if they have plans for making them more widely connectable.

Gary RK said:

Excellent article.

However,  there is one point that needs consideration before discounting the 'Dinosaur' packages such as Sage & Quickbooks etc.

Once a Contractor reaches a certain size & complexity, the manual/paper based systems used in the background will often need to be computerised, such as Estimating/Pricing, Scheduling/WIP etc.

The online systems do not cater for this and as such users need to look for integrated packages (from authorised partners) that bolt on to the mainstream Accounting Packages to provide a single view/database of all customer related details (almost CRM) with the required functionality - such as scheduling etc.

Of all the online packages we looked at, all are suitable for sole traders or small companies, but struggle to provide the additional industry specific (ie landscaping/maintenance/lawn care) features one needs to run a slighty bigger to medium sized business.

It is easy to look at the Accounting requirements in isolation, without addressing other business needs - that can lead down a dead end avenue (and waste time and expense).

Certainly food for thought - I must admit that I was toying with using Kashflow but concerned with back office integration particularly from a works scheduling view point. Saying that I can fully appreciate the benefits of such a package as Kashflow and their card processors add ons etc.

Gerry, I agree - I can see this happening for cloud packages as the XML interface to achieve this is open standards.

The problem is; Will the providers invest the effort for a relatively small user base ?

We are there and past that point (partly due to my background).  We know that QB have their new Online accounts package and are carefully watching what the suppliers of our Scheduling/WIP package are doing (they already have a online version of their desktop package).

I agree, things will change and may move quick, BUT in the meantime you need an 'eyes wide open' approach :-)

Would be happy to show online via LogMeIn how this works in practice for us. We effectively emulate 'online' by using LogMeIn to gain access anywhere to desktop based solution from  iPad/iPhones.

For me ? QB Pro, Qxpress & LiberRate. Get those 3 packages "online & talking" and you'd wipe the floor....

This is a link to the Kashflow API Graeme - Kashflow API. It's a bit Dalek-speak as you'd expect but in simple terms they open up their accounting system to allow third-party software providers to see how to link in to the main program. So if you have a supplier who has already done the work of writing software that you are using all they have to do is design the link and they have a whole new market for their software.

Graeme @ BGS said:

Certainly food for thought - I must admit that I was toying with using Kashflow but concerned with back office integration particularly from a works scheduling view point. Saying that I can fully appreciate the benefits of such a package as Kashflow and their card processors add ons etc.

Thanks Gary, that's very interesting. You're right that for larger and growing businesses this is early days for online accounting and of course some of the packages will only ever target small businesses, a la Sage Instant. I'll have a look at Qxpress & LiberRate and may take you up on your offer.

Gary RK said:

Gerry, I agree - I can see this happening for cloud packages as the XML interface to achieve this is open standards.

The problem is; Will they providers invest the effort for a relatively small user base ?

We are there and past that point (partly due to my background).  We know that QB have their new Online accounts package and are carefully watching what the suppliers of our Scheduling/WIP package are doing (they already have a online version of their desktop package).

I agree, things will change and may move quick, BUT in the meantime you need an 'eyes wide open' approach :-)

Would be happy to show online via LogMeIn how this works in practice for us

For me ? Qxpress & LiberRate. Get those 3 packages talking and you'd wipe the floor....

This is interesting and perhaps indicates the ongoing change in the industry - Xero acquires WorkFloMax. WorkFloMax gets some of the best integration reviews on my accountants forum (I know that's from accountants which doesn't always reflect the real world !!) but it is well thought of and also integrates with Kashflow.

ps.  sorry if it sounds like I'm plugging Xero, I'm not and have no connection ! They just seem to be the current movers and shakers in online accounting.

has anyone experience of xero http://xero.com my accountant has recommended it

 

I have used Xero as a demo but currently have no clients using it. However, I belong to the leading accounting network (AccountingWeb) and it is consistently rated as the top online accounting solution and they have a wide range of add-ons. Kashflow also get good reviews and I can confirm that for small businesses it is good. I have clients who use AccountsPortal which is cheap but a bit less functional than the others.

Bear in mind Gary's comments above about integrating other systems you may currently use.

BTW I dissed Quickbooks a bit in my piece but they have just improved their online offerring and on the face of it it doesn't look too bad. I haven't tried it yet and I have to admit I've never been a big fan of it.

Peak surfacing said:

has anyone experience of xero http://xero.com my accountant has recommended it

 

My firm signed up with Xero last June and we are currently using it for about 12 clients, including where we are doing the book-keeping on behalf of clients.  I think its great, especially the automated download of bank transactions.  In fact, where we were previously providing book-keeping services to clients using spreadsheets (clients whose businesses were too small to put onto Sage or Quickbooks) we are now doing everything up to trial balance stage on Xero.  It is definitely the way forward for accountancy practices.  We opted for Xero over Kashflow because of the link to the client's bank account, which makes daily bank reconciliations so easy, but also because Kashflow tend to bombard their customers with emails asking how they are getting on - very irritating!  

The greatest success story so far is a client running 2 pubs who has switched over from Quickbooks to Xero.  Previously, their internal admin person could only enter purchase invoices and supplier payments, with all other entries having to be made by the external accountant.  On Xero, the same internal admin person is now entering everything and reconciling the bank every day. 

New features are being added regularly.  The one that would make it the complete package would be a proper payroll calculator.  It has been added in Australia and, I believe, it is only a matter of time before it arrives here.

An interesting and insightful article.

Although it would be great to be part of the vanguard of online accounting, no doubting it is the future, but believe on cost alone it would only really benefit a larger concern. 

 "it really can be of great value to even the smallest business."

There's few smaller than my little one-man-band, so use Quickbooks simple start, cost £70, and which should last a few years. Currently, through a utility package can produce .pdf copies of P&L or Balance Sheet at any time, and post in Google docs for free should an accountant wish to view online. The size of the business alone means there's no requirement for 'real time' monitoring on any regular basis.

As well as the increased cost of the cloud solution, there is also the added overhead in that the solution providers recommend importing all of your .csv files into a spreadsheet on your own computer, as they don't offer a guarantee or accept liability for data loss.  Highly unlikely, granted, but who'd be prepared to run the risk?

Don't quite see the 'great value' you speak of Gerry, not yet, especially for us smaller set ups, but am open to be convinced!

 

I switched to Xero last year and highly recommend it too. I still use Freshbooks for my estimates and invoicing though. 

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